Sakuraba and Barnett forming Quintet pro grappling league

Monday, December 11, 2017

UFC Hall of Famer Kazushi Sakuraba and former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett are the world’s two leading exponents of catch wrestling. The pair are collaborating on a new professional grappling league, using the traditional Japanese ‘Kachi-Nuki’ team bout format. In it, the winner stays up until there is only one, and the one’s team wins.

They call it Quintet – Grappling Team Survival Match.

“Honestly, I enjoy competing,” said Saku via a translator.” And if I’m having a great time, it’ll be fun for the audience too. In a regular bout, you’ve got one match and it’s over. But we’ve got attrition-style bouts, called ‘Kachi-Nuki’. If you win, you keep on fighting, maybe winning two or three times. That right there is what will make it fun to watch. It’ll be a heck of a challenge, but that much more exciting.”

The Warmaster too weighed in.

“I think it wants to be itself,” he began. “It wants to be a new face in this landscape of martial arts. This is about showcasing grappling but also showing the importance of teams. Each individual is not just required to think about what their win means for themselves, but how that will affect the team. It incorporates a lot of strategy outside of just a single match. That makes it very interesting.”

We’re interested!

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is widely acknowledged as the origin of mixed martial arts. However, professional wrestling also played a massive and relatively unheralded role.

While the UFC was founded by Rorion Gracie, if you follow the lineage back, you hit pro wrestling. Rorion learned the art from his father Helio. Helio learned it from watching his older brother Carlos Sr, who in turn learned the basic techniques, from high ranking Judoka Mitsuyo Maeda. Maeda came to Brazil as a professional wrestler.

Further, before UFC 1, there were mixed rules bouts in Japan with submissions on the ground and KOs from strikes standing, the definition of MMA. Again, the lineage goes back to pro wrestling.

Karl Gotch learned Catch-As-Catch-Can wrestling at Billy Riley’s “Snake Pit” in Wigan, England. In the 1970s he taught those skills to Antonio Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Satoru Sayama, Masami Soranaka, and Akira Maeda, among many others. That group of Japanese athletes was in addition variously skilled in a variety of other martial arts, including sambo, karate, kickboxing, Muay Thai, and Judo.

In 1984, the Universal Wrestling Federation was formed; it showcased a new “Strong Style” form of professional wrestling, using real technique and real contact, but with a predetermined or “worked” ending. When the UWF closed, the wrestlers took things in a variety of directions, many of them real combat sports.

Yoshiaki Fujiwara’s proteges Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki founded Pancrase. Satoru “Tiger Mask” Sayama founded Shooto. Caesar Takeshi founded Shoot boxing. And Akira Maeda founded Fighting Network Rings. Shooto began holding amateur matches with what we would describe as MMA rules in 1986, and pro fights in 1989, several years before UFC 1.

This group produced some of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport. For example, Fedor Emelianenko, the greatest heavyweight fighter in MMA history, got started in RINGS.

Thus while pro wrestling is regarded by many as non-serious, it’s serious, and the two leading figures in catch wrestling collaborating on an grappling event is a great step for combat sports.